O captain, my captain

June 20, 2007, midnight | By Brittany Allen | 13 years, 3 months ago

Blair's beloved teachers retire with grace

Carole Tomayko started working at Blair in 1981, beginning as a staff assistant and eventually taking a position as an English teacher. Over her years at Blair, she has seen the school move from one building to another, seen hundreds upon hundreds of students walk the hallways and taught just about every core book known to mankind. But this year, she says, it's finally time to kiss the kids goodbye and leave Blair Boulevard once and for all.

Photo: Tomayko smiles in the English office.

Tomayko is one of six Blair teachers who has retired after this school year. The others are English teacher and CAP program coordinator Dee D'Angelo, English teacher Sherelyn Ernst, social studies teacher Joann Malone, magnet teacher Glenda Torrence and math teacher Paul Grossman, who will be leaving MCPS this year but will still remain a teacher. After logging a decade or more of service at the school, each of these dedicated staff members is prepared to take a new step, be it through the pursuit of long-dormant personal dreams or a new career move.

The first few days after she officially retired, Tomayko planned to take some time to just "relax and be," an activity her bursting schedule has prevented for many years. She's served Blair in just about every capacity, performing as an English teacher on all levels imaginable (her repertoire spans everything from remedial English to Gifted and Talented classes), a student teacher and a staff assistant — she's even seen her son and daughter-in-law through the school. "When your life is that wrapped up in a place, it's hard to choose a favorite memory," Tomayko says.

Photo: D'angelo sits at her desk in the CAP office.

The heart of the school

Like Tomayko, English teacher Sherelyn Ernst has also committed countless hours to the education of what seems like millions of Blazers. Having been teaching some twenty-five years, however, ("I started teaching the year Ms. Roberts was born!") Ernst feels ready to leave. "It's been a very positive experience for me," Ernst says. "I've learned a lot, taught a lot…it's been very rewarding. I'm a different person as a result."

Ernst's most significant memory at Blair was an encounter with one of her more challenging students, who she taught in a remedial English class several years ago. The student wasn't interested in the subject and did everything possible to rebel against his schooling. "He failed the functional writing test, which is the equivalent of the HSA today," she says. "So next year I had him back again." After constant prepping and rigorous training for another year, the boy failed the test once more.

Years later, Ernst's most difficult student turned into one of her biggest success stories. The pupil joined the military and rose quickly in the ranks. One day, he came back to thank his high school English teacher for never losing faith in him, a moment Ernst hasn't forgotten to this day.

Photo: Ernst poses in the English office.

Ernst's experience coincides with some of Tomayko's strongest convictions, a lesson she's learned from years teaching disinterested kids. "Believe in yourself and the students you teach," she says.

Beyond all of her moving experiences at Blair, Ernst has big plans to travel as soon as her last day comes. Her desktop is decorated with personal photographs taken in areas around South America, Africa, Europe and Asia as well as magazine cutouts of exotic landmarks. Ernst is particularly excited about trips she's planning to India, Thailand, Latin America and China. She loves the idea of traveling during tourist off-seasons, when the weather promises to be more pleasant and the lines shorter. "It's a great world, and before we all burn up from global warming, I'd like to see it," she says.

Photo: Grossman smiles in his picture outside of the math department.

Insights from the third floor

Magnet teacher Glenda Torrence has also logged some serious time at Blair. She's dedicated fourteen years to the third floor corridors of the science department and now seeks to retire simply because she feels it's the right time. "I'm getting old!" she writes in an e-mail interview. Despite her eagerness to retire, Torrence isn't planning an instant get-a-way. "I don't have plans yet. I am sure they will evolve as I find a spot to relax and breathe deeply," she says.

Like Tomayko and Ernst, Torrence has experienced the Blair environment in two different buildings. She worked as a chemistry teacher at the old Blair campus but also suffered the school's dramatic shift to its new location on University Blvd.

Still, while the function and set-up of the chemistry department changed drastically from the old building to the new (Torrence compares the old chemistry department's equipment to tools of the Stone Age), Torrence maintains that the kids have remained the most constant factor. "Young people are very much the same from year to year," she says. "A decade isn't very long to notice a change in student culture. Most of the changes just reflect the cultural changes going on everywhere."

Give peace a chance

Photo: Malone flashes a peace sign to Blazers.

Social studies teacher Joann Malone leaves behind a legacy at Blair that no other teacher has managed to duplicate. Her peace studies course, which endeavors to study the roots of non-violence and implement these lessons in contemporary society, is a generally hailed favorite among all students who've taken the class.

Malone taught at Blair for nine years, spanning a multitude of social studies core subjects, but always favored her more creative endeavors within the school to core curriculum. "My favorite course was Peace Studies. I will miss all my students very much," she writes in an e-mail interview. But rather than pursue travel, Malone looks forward to returning to her home as soon as she officially retires. "I'm not going very far," she writes. "You'll see me in Takoma Park."

Something they'll never forget

Photo: Torrence poses in her old classroom.

Despite countless hours logging chemicals and sifting through the same core books year after year, most of this year's retiring teachers maintain that Blair has been a deeply significant experience for them that they will never forget. "It has been the period of time through which I most distinguished myself as a teacher and a mentor," says Torrence. 'The fourteen years took place after children, and were very formative."

The underlying message that the teachers wish to leave behind in their stories is the enduring idea that greatness can be achieved at any age, at any time and through any means. Torrence is most adamant, saying, "Don't believe anyone when they tell you life ends at thirty!"

For her last message to her students, Tomayko imparts these words of wisdom: "Tenacity matters. Never take no for an answer. Take a look at your strengths — and remember, you are everything."

Students Sound Off

Dr. D'Angelo

Senior Whitney Skippings enjoyed her course this year with her retiring English teacher, Dr. D'Angelo. "She's got a great sense of humor. When you listen to her, you realize she says a lot of really funny things."

Mr. Grossman

Closer to the math department, senior Tom Dror also found his year in class with Mr. Grossman a fun and constantly amusing experience. "There was one time when he showed us his 'snow dance,'" says Dror, mimicking an elf-like prance as he moves around in circles. "It was the funniest thing." But beyond the jokes, Dror is quick to note that Grossman could get down to business just as easily as he could spice up the class. "I remember I learned a lot. He was a really good teacher."

Ms. Malone

Senior Blain Samuel credits the peace studies course's success entirely to Malone, who she freely admits is one her favorite teachers in the school. "She's real, she [speaks] her mind, she's not afraid to tell us what we need to know," Samuel says. "She's not like other teachers."

Brittany Allen. Brittany Allen is a sleep-deprived CAP SENNNNNIOORRR with a penchant for treading the boards in the Blair auditorium floor. When not spreading the love in Silver Chips Online, she acts as co-director of Blair's Young Thespian club with the fabulous and all-powerful Caitlin Schneiderhan. She … More »

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